Trigger Warning for suicidal thoughts, isolation, loneliness and self harm.
It’s not easy for me to describe when I first knew I was transgender. Or how I knew. There was no sudden moment when the skies opened up and it all became clear. No great realization. It was actually a set of small steps each leading onto the next. While gender and sexuality are independent of one another, discovering my gender and discovering my sexuality have been simultaneous paths. It is not really possible for me to talk about one without talking about the other as well. An expression that is used to describe the difference is sexuality is who you go to bed with and gender is who you go to bed as. While both are important aspects of what makes me who I am they’re independent of each other. Everything I write here is at best only a reconstruction based on my memory, I can not claim it is completely accurate. Certain details have been omitted to protect both my own privacy and the identity of others. Lastly this applies only to me as a transgender person not to any one else. I don’t speak for any other trans person I only speak for myself.
Talking about my childhood is difficult for me for several reasons. First off is because I was not a very healthy child. I had many problems. Anaphylaxis and asthma being the two main ones. I carried an Epi pen and inhaler for years in and out of school. I also have a learning disability which was not discovered until I was thirteen. But the aspect of my childhood that is the most difficult to talk about in retrospect is my gender. If I talk about my childhood omitting the detail that I’m transgender people might picture may as a young girl. A girl who looks a lot like my sister perhaps because we do have a strong resemblance. But that girl they are picturing is far from the whole story. Instead the photos of me are of what would be perceived as a boy with cropped hair. Sometimes a pretty sickly boy at that. My childhood was actually very normal even with my health problems.
But my health problems did do one thing to me. They marked me even if just in my own mind as ‘other’. It meant there was a difference between me and my classmates. This feeling of being isolated from my peers would only begin to grow with time. Another factor was due to my age. My mother didn’t like the idea of me being separate from her because of my health. So I wasn’t sent to school until age five. I struggled with the schoolwork and the school advised I repeat a year. Also ended up spending yet more time in education. Thus I ended being about two years older then most of my classmates.
So how did gender fit into all of this? Primary school was not a segregated world. There were boys and girls. My first teacher would be constantly letting me up to wonder around the class room. I didn’t want to sit down. I played with girls toys for a while as a child especially My Little Pony. I would pretend I was female during games of pretend. As I got older I would gravitate towards more typically masculine toys however. I was three when Harry Potter was first published. The first film came out when I was six. I can remember my father reading me and my brother the first chapter. I was soon a fan. It was Harry Potter that would turn me into a reader and a writer. Hermoine was the character I would come to idealize the most. Were these things hints as to my transgender identity? Maybe but I was a child and I didn’t give most things much thought. I certainly had no responsibilities to live up to. If you had asked me at the time if I was a boy or a girl I believe I would have said boy even with my sometimes feminine behaviors.
But of course all that was to change by the time I was in second class I was playing Yu-Gi-Oh cards and Pokemon. I was much more conventionally a boy, I knew everyone around me saw me as a boy. By the time I was seven I knew the differences between boys and girls -reproduction, genitals etc. I would learn about sexual intercourse and homosexuality(from a Simpsons episode of all places) around this time as well-and I understand that the side I was meant to fit was the boy side. Everyone around me saw me as a boy and treated me as such, I understood my body to be male. To say however that I was a little boy however overlooks the way I would play games of being female, express femininity and identified most strongly with female role models. But saying I was a girl isn’t exactly right either. Firstly it over looks how I was socialized as a boy. Secondly it also overlooks how much more typically boyish I was as an older child and then a teenager. Also thirdly it overlooks that I perceived my own body and identity as male because there was no other options presented to me.
It was at this time the age of ten that my internal conflict around my gender and my sex would begin. The teacher would pit the boys and girls against each other in P.E. This is one the first time I became conflicted about my gender categorization. We were playing a game called crumbs and crusts. The idea was there were two teams the crumbs and the crusts. Crumbs were the boys and Crusts were the girls. The girls had to catch the boys to bring them over to being Crusts and vice versa. I was caught and moved over to the girls team. One of my friends mouthed at me to be slow so he could catch me. I would go back over to the boys team then. It was after another round and I was still with the girls did a thought occur to me. ‘Why do I want to go back to the boys? Why is it so important I be on the boys side?’ It was like something clicked then because I couldn’t think of a reason why I should be in a group with boys. But I then shook my head of course I should be in a group with boys, I was a boy. With that I shrugged my shoulders and went on with my P.E class.
The next time I would something like that would be when my voice started changing. Another boy from a different class pointed it out. I can’t remember who he was or even what he looked like but I can remember one thing about he said. It was after I told him another boy wasn’t feeling well. His response wasn’t about what I said but my voice-that it was deep, that it sounded like a man’s voice. I was horrified. I asked another boy did my voice really sound that deep? He said it must have broken. I told myself it made me more mature and that it was a good thing. Actually I was horrified. I buried the last of my feelings down into my mind. We had already had sex education with a woman coming into the school at this stage. Another woman came in during sixth class. At the time after these lessons I had told my mother that it sounded worse for girls puberty. Little did I know that now a newer type of conflict was set to be begin. My sexuality was starting to develop and the conflict between my body and mind would become a storm as I moved from my co-educational primary school to a boy’s only secondary school.
But before I get there. I want to review the elements of this first part of my story. Did I know I was transgender at this stage? At any point? The short answer is a no. I did not know the world transgender. My body was male (even if the only visible sex related characteristics I definitely had were genitals), I knew that that made me a boy-unlike my sister who was a girl. There was also the fact I was socialized as a boy from the outside. Everyone told me I was one, no other option was given, my hair was kept short and I was always included with children who were boys.
A lot of the time I was a typical boy with health problems who struggled in school. Again things that were not unusual. But on the other side of the coin something whispered to me inside my mind when I was put into male only groups, when my natal puberty started and I would imagine myself as a girl. Those are just some of the examples that were there. Another being I wanted the name Christina for my confirmation name-I went with John in the end though. So was I a boy as a child? No clearly that is an inaccurate way of describing my childhood. But the word girl also however leaves out a lot of information. You could say that both boy and girl could describe me in different ways but then those labels are only partially right which ever one you use. I was certainly transgender and a child. The most accurate label is transgender child. Another way of looking at it is that while yes my body was male and society treated me as a boy as a result. But my brain was wired in such a way that it insisted I was female.
Julia Serano has coined the term subconscious sex to refer to how the brain can expect the body to be another sex. The best ways of describing my childhood is this, I had a male body, I consciously identified and was identified as a boy. But my subconscious sex insisted that I was female and thus a girl.
How I do not describe it as follows: ‘being a woman trapped in man’s body’ I own my body not the other way around. Sure do I dislike some of sex related characteristics of my body yes. But there are things I enjoy and like about my body too(yes even before my medical transition). Also I do not feel as if I am ‘supposed to be a girl’-as if I know the secrets of the universe. No how I describe it is the following sentence- I was assigned to the male sex and boy gender at birth because of the way my body looked and the way it developed but a part of my brain has always insisted I was a female.